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HIKING CERRO CHATO
Some describe the feeling they get when their partner asks them for their hand in marriage as being on “cloud nine”. I, too, can relate; however perhaps it is because Ricky and I may have actually been on cloud nine at the time, given that we were more than one thousand meters above the ground after a long and grueling hike to the top of Cerro Chato.
In the song Vivir Lo Nuestro, Marc Anthony sings that from the highest mountain, as high as the stars, he wants to shout “I love you” so all the world will know. Fortunately for me, Ricky set out to do the same on the day he asked me to marry him. What transpired was a hike to the top of Cerro Chato–one of Costa Rica’s dormant volcanoes that has become a popular hiking destination and a must-do activity for avid climbers who plan to visit the La Fortuna/Arenal region of the country. For those who make it to the top, a beautiful and cool lagoon awaits; it is the perfect spot to stop and catch your breath at, swim at, relax in, and in our case, get engaged at, before embarking on the hike back down.
By most travellers’ standards, the Cerro Chato hike is classified as a difficult one. It is challenging both physically and mentally, requiring both body strength to propel yourself up the seemingly endless (multi-hour) set of forest stairs leading you to the top of the mountain, as well as determination to keep yourself moving until you reach the final destination. If you are up for the challenge, reserve a guided tour or tackle the trek on your own (if you are unsure which option would be best, consider reading our related blog post Guided Tours In Costa Rica: Are They Necessary, Valuable, And/Or Worthwhile?). For those who opt to visit without a guide, entrance tickets can be purchased at either the Green Lagoon Lodge (on the east side of Cerro Chato, accessible via downtown La Fortuna) or at the Arenal Observatory Lodge (on the west side of Cerro Chato, accessible via El Castillo).
When approaching Cerro Chato from the easternmost side (the most popular of the two access points), the first part of the hike is conducted in the open. On sunny days, the section is uncomfortable to get through as a result of direct heat, but fortunately, once the trail enters the mountain’s forest, shade and slightly cooler (albeit humid) temperatures are a welcomed blessing. Along the way, don’t forget to turn back frequently and look behind you–the mountain offers beautiful views of the San Carlos region and beyond.
After what can feel like an endless climb inside Cerro Chato’s dense forest, at the top (on clear days), travellers are treated to an incredible sight: the neighbouring Arenal Volcano. On the day that Ricky and I made our very first trip (with his hidden agenda to propose marriage), the volcano grumbled when we reached Cerro Chato’s summit. To this day, Ricky and I joke that the mini eruption was Arenal’s way of saying “you can do it, Ricky!”–an offering of encouragement from our stratovolcanic friend that lived in our front yard for many years before.
CERRO CHATO LAGOON
Just when your leg muscles feel as if they won’t carry you any further, the top of Cerro Chato there is another set of forest stairs, this time steps that lead downward toward an emerald lagoon. Here–far from home, the town of La Fortuna, and other travellers–there is nothing but privacy and peace. The lagoon’s surroundings are calm yet awakening, and for the first time without a doubt, you know why you made the trek.
At the lagoon, the love of my life asked me to spend the rest of my days with his, to which I responded “yes”. Although that was more than one decade ago, Cerro Chato remains a special destination for us, and not surprisingly, it is one of the places we include in our list Spots For The Soul: Great Places To Find Peace In Costa Rica. Its significance is mountainous in more ways than one, and we can only hope that travellers have similar rewarding experiences when they too challenge themselves to chase natural beauty with fierceness. While you might not get a husband or a wife out of your trip, you will gain a number of once-in-a-lifetime photos (how often do you get an opportunity to photograph a volcano’s crater?), a ton of exercise, and a deeper understanding of the innate exquisiteness that is Costa Rica, if you’re up for the challenge.
QUESTION TO COMMENT ON: Have you tackled the Cerro Chato hike? Was it easier or more difficult than you were expecting?